James Talley interprète ici une ballade rare de Woody Guthrie, que son auteur n’a pas enregistrée, mais dont il existe des versions entre autres par Cisco Houston et Arlo Guthrie. Une belle ballade, un peu à la manière des chansons de cowboy que Guthrie affectionnait.

Deux trimardeurs, hobos ou journaliers sont un soir victimes de la méchanceté d’un employé des chemins de fer, East Texas Red, qui jette un seau d’eau sur leur maigre repas en les chassant du lieu où ils ont trouvé refuge au bord de la voie.  Un an plus tard, ils le retrouvent et le tuent. L’histoire est simple comme une nouvelle de Steinbeck ou d’Hemingway, et illustre la brutalité de tout un monde : celui des campements de fortune des hobos, celui de la misère. East Texas Red lui-même ne joue pas seulement le rôle du nervi au service de la compagnie, comme le « Vigilante Man » d’une autre chanson de Woody Guthrie (que l’on trouve sur ce site dans la version de Ry Cooder). Son travail ne lui est pas acquis, et s’il fait du zèle, si sa méchanceté s’exprime, c’est aussi à cause de sa peur de le perdre. Il est le petit qui s’en prend aux plus petits encore. Et la froideur avec laquelle les hobos l’assassinent, avant de prendre tranquillement leur repas est d’une violence assez effrayante. Il n’y a pas ici, comme souvent chez Guthrie, les bons et les méchants, mais simplement la dureté et la violence de la vie des pauvres.

James Talley, natif de Tulsa dans l’Oklahoma où Woody Guthrie a vécu, a consacré un album entier aux chansons de ce dernier : c’est la seule occasion où il a chanté d’autres chansons que celles qu’il écrivait lui-même, depuis que Pete Seeger lui avait conseillé d’exprimer son grand talent par ses propres chansons. Il a par exemple beaucoup chanté la vie des Chicanos du Nouveau Mexique. Cet album est l’un des meilleurs consacrés à Guthrie.


EAST TEXAS RED

Down in the scrub oak country of the Southeast Texas Gulf
There used to ride a brakeman, a brakeman double tough
Well he worked the town of Kilgore and Longview twelve miles down
The trav’lers all called him East Texas Red the meanest bull around.

Red he rode by night to the broad daylight in the winter he went over the sun
You would always seen little East Texas Red sporting his smooth running gun
The tale’s got switched down the stems and mains and everybody said
The meanest bull on them shiny aeras was little East Texas Red.

It was on a cold and a windy morning, along towards nine or ten
A couple of boys on the hunt of a job were out in the blizzardy wind
Hungry and cold they knocked on the doors of the working people around
For a piece of meat carried old spud for to boil a stew around.

Well East Texas Red he come down the line and he swang up old number two
He kicked their bucket over a bush and he dumped out all their stew
An a traveler said, Mister East Texas Red you better get your deadness fixed
‘Cause you’re gonna ride your little black train just one year from today.

Well Red he laughed as he clumb the Bank and swung on aside of a wheeler
The boys caught a tanker to Seminole, then west to Amarillo
They got them a job of oil field work and they followed a pipe line down
It took them lots of places before that year had rolled around.

Then on a cold and wintery mornin’ they caught them a Gulf bound train
They shivered and shook with dough in their clothes to troubles bats again
And warm suits of clothes and overcoats they walk into a store
Paid the man for some meat and stuff to boil that stew once more

Well the ties they tracked down at cinder dump till they came to the same old spot
Where East Texas Red just one year ago had dumped their last stew pot.
And the smoke of their fire went higher and higher and Red come down the line
His head ducked low in the wintery wind he swang up old number nine
He walked on down to the jungle camp and came to that same old spot
And there sat the same two men again around that same stew pot.

Red went to his knees and he hollered, please don’t pull your trigger on me.
I did not get my business fixed but he did not get his say
For a gun wheeled out of an overcoat and it played that old one two
And Red was dead when the other two men set down to eat their stew.